Leading the News
Auto Industry Execs Believe Further Consolidation Will Happen Following PSA-Opel Deal.
Bloomberg News (3/7, Ebhardt, Miller, Rauwald) reports Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said he has “no doubt that at the relevant time VW may show up and have a chat” about consolidation with his company. Bloomber quotes Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn as saying “the industry is moving towards consolidation,” as companies continue “trying to gain scale.” Bloomberg notes that PSA hopes to have Opel at an “efficiency level that is equivalent to PSA’s today,” which would leave PSA “in a very good position to deal with prospective opportunities that could arise” with other manufacturers.
Reuters (3/7, Flak) reports that Marchionne also said that he remains open to a merger with GM, with Reuters quoting him “I never close any doors. I may shamelessly try and knock again … on the GM door or any door if I thought it was a good thing for the business. Absolutely, without even blinking.” Reuters notes that some analysts believe GM will be tempted to remain in Europe through a deal with FCA, “which is more profitable than the Opel business.” However, industry sources see a merger as unlikely as it “would lead to major job losses and stiff union opposition,” while GM President Dan Ammann said “We weren’t interested before and we’re even less interested now.”
The Detroit Free Press (3/7, Snavely) reports that Marchionne spoke more broadly, indicating that GM had “thrown out the baby with the bathwater” in exiting Europe. However, Barclay’s analyst Brian Johnson said GM’s decision to sell off Opel “shows GM continuing to execute the basics of capital allocation by divesting a poorly positioned business in a structurally unattractive market, allowing it now to focus on areas that matter more to its long-term success …and relatively little lost in shared engineering expense.”
Meanwhile, Reuters (3/7, Flak, Cremer) reports that while GM’s sale of Opel to PAS Group sparked some speculation that there would be further consolidation in the auto market, a few executives see changes in technology, the rise of Silicon Valley and China, and changing consumer habits as bigger changes coming down the line. Reuters quotes VW head Herbert Diess, who expects further consolidation as saying “We are really in a transitionary phase for the industry. There are new competitors on the horizon like Tesla or Chinese ventures.” Reuters also notes that VW is investing heavily in “electric vehicles, automated driving and new mobility services,” and unveiled a “fully self-driving concept at the Geneva show.”
Virginia Tech Students To Compete In International Robotics Challenge.
Electronics Media (3/6, Dhote) reported Virginia Tech undergraduate and graduate students will travel to Abu Dhabi next week to compete as Team VICTOR in an international autonomous robotics competition. In 2015, the Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge issued the competition invitation, and 143 teams throughout the world participated in preliminary competition rounds. Team VICTOR is one of 25 remaining teams, and one of 15 teams sponsored by competition organizer Khalifa University’s $3 million fund. Georgia Tech and Carnegie Mellon University are the only other American teams awarded sponsorships. The advancing teams will compete for another $2 million to be awarded through four separate challenges. “The great thing about competitions such as this, or those like the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) challenges we’ve competed in the past, is that they give scientists and researchers an even greater incentive in the realm of competition,” commented professor and Team VICTOR adviser Tomonari Furukawa.
ED Delays Gainful Employment Rule Enforcement.
Politico Morning Education (3/7, Wermund) reports that ED “is giving the more than 800 career college programs that failed to meet the Obama administration’s gainful employment requirements – nearly all at for-profit schools – a little more time while officials ‘further review’ the controversial Obama-era regulations.” Inside Higher Ed (3/7) reports that ED announced this week “roughly three-month delays to deadlines for colleges to submit appeals or public disclosures under the gainful employment rule,” noting that “Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration have signaled that they will seek to roll back gainful employment.” ED’s announcement “means colleges have until July to submit appeals to academic programs’ debt-to-earnings ratios.”
Money (3/7, Clark) calls the move the Trump Administration’s “first shot at rules designed to protect students from expensive, low-quality colleges and career training programs,” saying it delays “an effort to crack down on career training programs that load students up with unpayable debt.” This piece notes that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “has not publicly provided any specific plans for higher education, and she did not respond to a request for comment emailed to the Department’s press office Monday afternoon.”
College Students Learn Engineering, Science Through Car Racing.
Forbes (3/7, Knapp) reports the Institute of Mechanical Engineers sponsored Formula Student, a competition in Europe open to teams of university students who design, build, assemble, and race their own cars. The cars are products “of a lot of different scientific and engineering principles,” and the accompanying research “ends up applying to other industries as well.” Formula Student launched in 1998, and 117 teams from 25 nations will compete in the race this July. Forbes profiles Team Delft from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Seventy students from 17 different countries, including 11 “core” team members, are on Team Delft. The team uses 3-D design software and CATIA engineering software provided by its sponsor, Dassault Systemes. Team Delft’s chief engineer, Jonas Holtermann, said team members are “from different areas of study,” including aerospace and electrical engineering. He added that the cloud platform used “allows our team to work collaboratively on a complex engineering project with over 3000 parts in the final assembly.”
Connecticut State Lawmakers Schedule Hearing On Bill To Streamline Credit Transfers.
The New Haven (CT) Register (3/7) reports the Connecticut legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee will hold a public hearing on Thursday over proposed streamlining of the credit transfer process. Gateway Community College counselor John Mullane estimated the proposed change could save community college students who transfer to four-year institutions up to $7 million annually. He said community college students are most often deterred from transferring to four-year schools because of lost credits, and addressing the problem of lost transfer credits is “the only solution to the college affordability issue.” Citing a past analysis, Mullane said an undergraduate transfer student loses an average 12 credits, delaying that student’s graduation by one semester and increasing the cost of education by $6,350. Under the proposed measure, the faculty and staff of Connecticut’s 17 community colleges, public universities, and the University of Connecticut would develop avenues to ensure credits are transferred seamlessly.
Research and Development
University Of Michigan Announces Satellite Time Capsule Project.
The AP (3/7) reports University of Michigan researchers announced on Tuesday that with the support of the Michigan Bicentennial Archive, they will launch a satellite dubbed “CubeSat” that will “test synthetic DNA as a medium for storing data in space.” The data will comprise of interviews from 1,000 people connected with the university. Faculty and students will develop CubeSat over the next two years, and intend to launch a smaller, test satellite this year. Officials said they hope CubeSat will be retrieved in 100 years so “future researchers can determine how the data fabricated at the nanoscale holds up.”
University Of Pittsburgh Researchers Receive National Award To Develop Wearable Hybrid Exoskeleton.
The Pittsburgh Business Times (3/7) reports University of Pittsburgh mechanical engineering and materials science assistant professor Nitin Sharma and medicine and bioengineering associate professor Kang Kim were presented with a three-year, $400,000 award from the National Science Foundation’s Cyber program. Sharma and Kim will use the award to develop a wearable hybrid exoskeleton ultrasound sensor system. The hybrid exoskeleton combines electrical nerve stimulation and external monitors that will both help disabled patients walk and minimize muscle injury and fatigue. The team is collaborating with George Mason University researchers led by bioengineering, electrical, and computer engineering associate professor Siddhartha Sikdar. Sikdar was also presented with a $400,000 award.
Undulating Exoskeleton Tower Construction Underway In Miami.
The Miami Herald (3/6) reported the late “superstar architect Zaha Hadid” designed One Thousand Museum, slated to become the second exoskeleton tower in Miami. The tower, estimated for completion in 2018, is currently being shipped to Miami from Dubai in structural pieces made of glass fiber-reinforced lightweight concrete. Unlike traditional exoskeleton buildings, One Thousand Museum will have “undulating structural shapes” that make its exoskeleton uniquely complex. Each piece takes about 42 days to ship, but construction “is rapid” at an average of one floor per week. Because the One Thousand Museum builders are using the glass fiber-reinforced concrete as a mold encompassing steel rebar, construction is ahead of schedule by about six months.
Engineers Say More Funding Needed For More Ambitious Human Space Exploration.
Aviation Week (3/8) reports that government engineers say that more funding for human space exploration is needed to fulfill President Donald Trump’s recent claim that “American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.”
Engineer Developing Wing Designs Optimized For Fuel Efficiency.
Phys (UK) (3/7) reports that University of Michigan aerospace engineer Joaquim Martins is leading a team developing solutions for optimized aircraft wing designs that enable greater fuel efficiency. Martins and his collaborators presented their research at the AIAA SciTech Forum in January. The research resulted in the design of “high aspect ratio wings that have a much larger span than those in use today.” Boeing and NASA “are both testing prototypes” based on Martins’ optimizations, and Boeing plans to start testing its prototype later this year.
Computer Scientists Develop Intelligent System Aid For Air Traffic Controllers.
Phys (UK) (3/7) reports that computer scientists from Saarland University worked together with the German Aerospace Center to develop a new system aid that “listens in to air controllers’ radio conversations and makes more informed suggestions for their current situation.” Phys (UK) reports that the “researchers have already tested their prototype in various simulations for major airports at the DLR Research Airport in Braunschweig” and that the “German Aerospace Center is now trying to promote the commercialization of the system.”
Former Tesla Employee Looks To Build A Battery Factory In Europe.
Reuters (3/7, Pollard) reports, Peter Carlsson, who formerly managed Tesla’s supply chain, is seeking to “raise at least $4 billion to build Europe’s biggest battery factory in Sweden.” Carlsson is looking to get ahead of an “expected surge in demand” as Europe focuses more heavily on electric vehicles. Carlsson’s company, Northvolt, hasn’t picked a spot for its factory yet, but the believes the heavily automated factory could employ 2,500 to 3,000 people, and itself would run on renewable energy. Reuters adds that Northvolt is not just looking to produce batteries for the automotive sector, but also for “energy storage and heavy industrial machinery.”
Fortune (3/7, Smith) reports the factory would produce “32 gigawatt-hours of battery packs a year by 2023.” Fortune notes that raising the money for the factory is uncertain as Tesla “already had capitalisation in the billions by the time it started to raise money for the Gigafactory,” as well as a public listing. However, Northvolt does have the advantages of a strong “Scandinavian venture capital ecosystem,” and a European energy sector “more than happy to accelerate the adoption of new-generation technology,” with Reuters adding that “Sweden’s biggest utility, Vattenfall,” is already backing Northvolt.
Cameras Are Top Draw Factor For Smartphone Consumers, Manufacturers Deliver.
ComputerWorld (3/7, Hamblen) reports that as research shows camera performance is among the top factors drawing smartphone buyers to their chosen devices, many device makers at MWC “announced camera innovations designed to meet that demand.” Specifically mentioned devices are the Huawei P10 and P10 Plus for their “dual rear cameras with high quality Leica lenses,” the LG G6 with its wide-angle front and back cameras, and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium that features a 19-megapixel rear camera with extreme slow-motion video capabilities. IDC Analyst Ryan Reith is cited explaining that design, brand and camera features top the firm’s list of factors motivating buyers and will be major focuses of the coming Samsung Galaxy S8 and new Apple iPhones. Kevin Burden, an analyst at 451 Research, says that manufacturers continue to key in on cameras because they present opportunities for further improvements and those improvements are more noticeable and marketable to consumers than improvements to things like display resolution or processor speed.
Engineering and Public Policy
Senate Votes To Revoke Obama Land Management Rule.
In what Reuters (3/7, Volcovici) calls “the latest move by the Republican-led Congress to undo Obama administration environmental regulations it sees as a burden,” the Senate voted 51-48 Tuesday to revoke “a rule that aimed to give the public more input into federal land management decisions.” The resolution would “repeal the Bureau of Land Management’s Resource Management Planning rule, known as BLM 2.0, finalized in December by the Obama administration.”
Democratic Senators Urge EPA Not To Reopen Review Of Fuel Efficiency Rules.
Reuters (3/7, Shepardson) reports Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and eleven other Democrats said on Tuesday it was “critical” that the Trump administration leave in place new EPA vehicle fuel efficiency rules. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is expected to announce the reopening of a review of the rules for the 2022-2025 period. The emissions standards “are economically feasible and technologically achievable for the auto industry,” the senators wrote in a letter to Pruitt. The Hill (3/7, Cama) reports the letter was led by Sen. Ed Markey who “helped write the 2007 law the led to the standards.”
The Detroit Free Press (3/7, Spangler) reports the auto industry has been lobbying President Trump to roll back the future standard. Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the automakers were “key architects” of the standards, adding, “They’re working.” Critics also worry about “any potential effort to withdraw waivers that allowed California and 12 other states to enact tougher standards,” the story reports. The AP (3/7, Daly, Krisher) also reports.
Maryland Senate Approves Energy Efficiency Bill.
The AP (3/7) reports the Maryland Senate approved a measure to require the state’s five largest electric utilities to provide customers with energy-efficiency programs and services. The bill, which passed along party lines Tuesday, aims to reduce energy consumption by 2 percent a year. The House passed a similar bill last week. The Baltimore Sun (3/7) also reports.
Ohio Republicans Again Target Wind, Solar Mandates.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer (3/7) reports, in continuing coverage, that the Ohio House Republicans are “moving again to get rid of the state’s renewable energy rules.” The bill would make voluntary the renewable energy mandates on utilities.
Buckeye Institute Says Renewable Energy Standards Will Ohio Jobs. The Cleveland Plain Dealer (3/7) reports that according to the free-market Buckeye Institute, Ohio could lose more than 134,000 jobs and $15.5 billion in GDP by 2026 if the state’s renewable energy standards continue. Under a “best-case scenario” whereby standards were indefinitely frozen at their current level, 6,880 jobs and $806 million in GDP would be lost by 2026, the report says.
Locust Valley Middle School Team Headed To National Science Bowl Finals.
Newsday (NY) (3/7) reports the Energy Department announced yesterday that the Locust Valley Middle School team on Long Island “won the regional competition in this year’s National Science Bowl over the weekend.” In a statement acting director of the DOE’s Office of Science J. Stephen Binkley said, “The National Science Bowl continues to be one of the premier academic competitions across the country and prepares America’s students for future successes in some of the world’s fastest growing fields in science, technology, and engineering.”
Wisconsin Middle School Students Advance To First LEGO League World Championships.
The Lake Country Now (WI) (3/7) reports the Brickbusters First LEGO League team from St. Peter’s School in East Troy won Wisconsin’s First LEGO League Champions Award and Robot Performance Award last month. The eight-student team will now advance to the world championships in St. Louis. As a part of the competition, the middle school students were tasked with designing, building, and programming a robot. They also had to identify a problem related to human-animal interactions and find a solution to that problem. For their project, the Brickbusters developed the idea of Friendchip, a pet health monitoring system that uses an internal microchip.
Tuesday’s Lead Stories
• Lithium-Ion Pioneer Develops Improved Battery.
• University Leaders Respond To Trump’s Revised Immigration Executive Order.
• IBM To Expand On Quantum Computing Efforts.
• Opel Deal Will Allow GM To Redirect Engineering Resources To US.
• H-1B Expedited Processing Suspension Could Impact Businesses.
• Chicago Math And Science Academy Celebrates Engineering Week.